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History Lessons by Jonathan Gifford

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MUHAMMAD ALI

(b.1942)

Muhammad Ali is a leader who did not set out to be a leader. He was never a leader of men, but he became a role model and a hero; he allowed people to think that they could behave in a different way. He did this by being his own man, despite the fact that this brought the weight of the whole American establishment down on his head.

In the 1960s, to be the professional heavyweight boxing champion of the world seemed more important than it does today. The sport, the championship, the fighters themselves, all seemed more significant than they do now. When Cassius Clay, as he was then called, took the title from Sonny Liston and said, “I am the greatest,” it didn’t seem like a foolish boast. Boxing matches of the time were shown ...

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